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twangster

Explorer Alaska 6/22/18 - 7 Nights RCLBlog Group Cruise!

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T minus 2 days.

Bags packed.  Boarding pass printed.  SetSail pass printed.  Luggage tags ready.  Check, check, check and check.  I think I'm ready. 

Amazingly I don't feel like I forgotten anything, which means in about 10 hours at 35,000' I will remember exactly what I forgot.  Such is cruising.

For the flight to Seattle tomorrow I have a 6am departure.  I had plenty of choices of flight times all day but I chose 6am so I could visit something in Seattle I've always wanted but haven't been able to yet.  The Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit at the base of the Space Needle.  I'm a sucker for blown glass so I'm looking forward to this as a pre-cruise excursion.

I'm flying with Delta, my favorite airline since I am heavily vested in it's frequent flier program.  At 13,500 Skymiles this may be the cheapest round trip flight I've booked using frequent flier miles.  A direct flight was available departing later and arriving at nearly the same time but at several thousand more miles so I chose a connection in Salt Lake City given the early time of day plus day before cruise booking.  Connections don't bother me since I've flown a bunch.  Loyalty pays - I've been upgraded to first class on both segments.  Not bad for an 'award' ticket.

My son is joining me on this cruise flying in from the East coast.  With a Friday to Friday cruise itinerary it meant an extra day of vacation for him so another day on top of that to fly in the day before was a problem.  He doesn't get that much time off at this point in his career.  He elected to fly in the day off the cruise, something I tend to avoid.  Flying from the East coast the time change is working in his favor.  Fingers crossed.

I booked my cruise through MEI Travel and added the official hotel for the Royal Caribbean Blog Group Cruise when it was offered oh so long ago.  Time flies, it's almost cruise day!   Shout out to Jacki York at MEI Travel for proactively checking each and every sale over several months to verify I had the best price.

Our cabin on this cruise is an interior with virtual balcony.  A full balcony cabin was nearly twice the price, per person of course.  I did an Alaskan cruise last year on Celebrity with a balcony.  One Alaska lesson I learned last year was that good excursions can be pricey.  Alaska excursions are well worth the price in my opinion to experience Alaska however adding up the total cost of a vacation experience on my second Alaska cruise I chose to spend money favoring excursions that were my second choice from last year over the cabin so interior virtual balcony it is.  Basically by booking an interior cabin we got our excursions 'included' compared to the cost of booking a balcony.  

Excursions this time around:

Juneau

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Skagway

(The description read much better when I booked it!)

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Victoria

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Booked during various sales it definitely pays to book excursions early and watch sales.  Most of them have increased in price over the months since booking.  I booked our excursions with enough time for us to self explore before or after as weather permits.  Alaska here we come!

With that it's time to close my laptop and pack it, else I might forget it in the morning at oh-dark-early when my ride arrives to carry me to the airport.

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Bon voyage all on the Group Cruise! I wish that I could join you as Alaska is on my list. If Ovation wasn't replacing Explorer, I would consider it for next year. 

Look forward to following along.

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10 hours ago, twangster said:

Amazingly I don't feel like I forgotten anything, which means in about 10 hours at 35,000' I will remember exactly what I forgot. 

With this itinerary where we are primarily in the USA (and Canada), I feel like the risk of not being able to get something you forgot is mitigated when compared to a typical Caribbean cruise where you are headed to ports that do not offer a lot of the conveniences of the USA.

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I booked a tight connection in Salt Lake and for the first time ever my arrival gate was literally right beside my connecting departure gate.  Connection made, the flight up to Seattle was uneventful. 

We arrived at our gate at 9:38am.  After waiting for my checked bag and hailing a Lyft ($39.95) I got to the hotel at 10:45am. 

Ride sharing apps use an area of the parking garage to operate from.  After baggage claim you have to proceed up one level and across a skybridge into the garage to row "i" where there were dozens of folks waiting for their drivers.

At the hotel apparently I was the first to check in from the group and they had one room ready on the 2nd floor so I took it despite not really having a view of any sort. 

Bag dropped in my room I headed out for the 10 minute walk to the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass.

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Chihuly Garden and Glass

I booked this as a combo with the Space Needle online the day before.  It had me select a time for the Space Needle but Chihuly was available to walk in anytime.  During the purchasing process it appeared Chihuly by itself was sold out but it was available to book as a combo for $44 plus tax. 

The two are located right next to each other.

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I had printed my ticket at home and it was a simple matter of following the signs and going straight to have it scanned without needing to stop at any ticket office.

I took a lot of photos and it's been hard to narrow it down.  It's getting late and I'm tired so I just going to dump the photos in this post and give it more thought another day.

Ticket scanned you are quickly presented with your first exhibit.

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There are eight interior areas and then the outdoor gardens. 

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This next section is the "Sea Room".

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There is the main piece in the center with smaller pieces around the outside of the room, each with intricate details.

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This leads to a whimsical corridor with a number of glass pieces overhead.  There were hundreds of pieces each with intricate detail.

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The next room was incredible. 

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What struck me was the detail in all aspects of every piece.

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This leads to the boat room with two boats filled with more pieces.

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Next up is the Chandelier Room.

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Following this is the Macchia Forest.

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Through the indoor sections it was time to move outdoors.

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There is a "Glass House" that was closed on this day for a private event.

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It's been hard to narrow down the 200 photos to these which is already more than I should have added.  It's just hard to capture and present it trying to do it justice without going overboard with photos.

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I grabbed some lunch and headed back for my turn at the Space Needle.  It was about an hour in line snaking slowly up towards the elevator for the rise top the top.  There is a security checkpoint you have to walk through but I had no issues with anything I had with me. 

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This is the area near the elevators where I finally made it to after crawling along, inch by inch waiting for the one elevator to carry guests up and down to the top.

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Just prior to this point is a photo station.  The photo is free to download.  They take your picture against a gray background and later, in the gift shop you can choose one of six backdrops and have a link emailed to you to access your photo.  This is included at no additional charge.

Built in 1961 the building and elevator appear to be set in this era.  It took just 400 days to building the Space Needle.  They are renovating the upper observation deck, replacing wire 'cage' with glass panels for a better view.  It's under construction now but mostly complete.

Here is the elevator ride up and down.

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They have set up a display to compare the old caged feel versus the new glass panels they are installing.  There used to be a knee wall where now the glass extends down to the floor for a much more open feeling with great views.

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The inside is being renovated as well. This is the line waiting to go back down. Not nearly as long a wait as it was going up.

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I'm very glad I did both Chihuly Glass and the Space Needle but I would choose an earlier reservation next time.  The crowds seemed to be growing bigger as the afternoon progressed.

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After walking back to the hotel I had just under an hour to prepare for the first Royal Caribbean Blog Alaska Group Cruise event - a 5pm meet up that included pizza.

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Here I met several familiar online names and avatars but was able to put real names and faces to them.  

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IT'S CRUISE DAY!!!!

Visions of going out last night to take some night photos around Seattle had briefly danced in my head but the sleep deficit from getting up for a 6am flight had other plans and to bed I went.

I've been assigned to bus#2 leaving the hotel at 10:00am for the transfer arranged with the group cruise.    I just checked my son's flight and they are projecting an hour early arrival.  He might actually beat me to the port!

With nearly 3 hours to kill I've already had a bite at the hotel breakfast and re-packed my bags.  Tick, tock, tick, tock.

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1 hour ago, KLAconQueso said:

Enjoy the group cruise! Following along here but really wish I could have joined in. One of these days my plans to attend an RC Blog GC will actually work out! 

I thought you were planning to go on the Anthem GC?  One of these days I need to go on one too!  They look like so much fun!

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27 minutes ago, Lovetocruise2002 said:

I thought you were planning to go on the Anthem GC?  One of these days I need to go on one too!  They look like so much fun!

I was dead set on booking it and going - and then life happened. 🙄

Actually the same story with the B2B Mariner GC in March, too. I have a family event over the 3 nighter, and I'm not totally sure I can pull off the 4 nighter but it's unlikely.

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9 hours ago, twangster said:

It's been hard to narrow down the 200 photos to these which is already more than I should have added.  It's just hard to capture and present it trying to do it justice without going overboard with photos.

There is no such thing as too many @twangster live blog photos...

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